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  #1  
Old 7 Jan 2005
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laptop computers

I know it's not strictly the subject for this part of the forum, but does anyone have any opinions on the wisdom of buying used Panasonic Toughbook laptops purely for desert mapping - the appeal being that you can have vast amounts of maps to hand and no paper, and can use them in conjunction with TTQV. The Laptop shop is knocking out CF27 toughbooks for around £250 incl Win 98SE. Sensible buy or get something more modern?


Andrew.
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  #2  
Old 7 Jan 2005
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A Toughbook for 250? where? I want one

Make sure you have at the very least 128MB of RAM. 256 MB is more like it for a fast response when working with large maps. Also ditch 98SE as anything prior to windows 2000 is unstable. Although they work better on RAM challenged machines.

I've taken a laptop on trips and it's simply awesome ! I've taken a laptop loaded with TTQV, Russian maps, TPC/ONC maps and sat images, and wondered in the Sahara and had a lot of fun with the setup. I even loaded up the notebook with 3D terrain visualization software which creates 3D views from any coordinate I specify by mapping the sat image onto DEM elevation files and compared that to reality ,

It was great fun but:

I used it while driving and for the first few times it simply sat on the lap of the passenger. This was very cumbersome and the wires were messy. Later on I fixed it on the dashboard which was much less clumsy but blocked access to the dashboard, hampered ventilation and made my small Jeep cockpit seems smaller.

A project on my list is to take apart the dashboard, modify it and integrate a touch screen monitor in the dashboard and hide a small factor computer behind it. The computer will be fixed in the Jeep and used for mapping and playing mp3. I already got most of the parts needed (wasn't easy) and I'm just waiting for some free time and the energy to do the project.

You suggested in your post that with this setup you won't carry paper maps. As I'm sure you know, computers do break down, hard disks fail, files get corrupted, TTQV crashes and most of all windows simply sucks and you can count on it to simply stop working for no apparent reason. You cannot rely on that setup even with the marvelous Panasonic Toughbook. Even when I use only a GPS, which is much more reliable than a computer, I don't fully trust it since any electronic device can fail. I carry a spare GPS and paper maps. Most important of all write down your location every hour on paper. The backup paper maps won't do you any good if don't know where your current location is.

A neat trick a biker here in Egypt told me is to mount somewhere on the dashboard or handlebar one of those cheap and small calculators with the paper roll that prints out the calculation. Every once in a while punch in your coordinates and there you have it, a paper track log.

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  #3  
Old 7 Jan 2005
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Visit www.Laptopshop.co.uk and look under used laptops.

The CF27 spec is not the latest! Pentium P1, 266 Mhz, 64 Mb RAM, 4GB hard disc, but I had a similar spec desk top machine that ran TTQV no problem. Apparently you cannot run later than Win 98 on the CF27 as it can't cope. I ran 98(not SE) on my desktop and it seemed fine, not as good as XP (!) but acceptable.

I wanted to avoid having to print out detailed maps of the whole of west Africa - I would only have detailed maps, printed by me, of my intended route, and large-ish scale maps of other areas, and trust the computer to keep going. I do of course appreciate the fallibilty of electronic equipment and myself use 2 gps's, and generally have at least one backup for everything, not just electronics. I also print out all the planned TTQV co-ordinates so that if a gps/laptop expires I can still enter routes to a gps manually if required.

I had a Dell 15 inch screen laptop in Morocco last year and it was a pain. Too big - always in the way, and requiring careful packing, so a smaller, cheaper 12 inch jobby that is less sensitive to bumps/dust etc looks ideal.


Andrew.
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  #4  
Old 8 Jan 2005
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I would get a more powerfull notebook if I were you. I did a quick search on ebay and found a few notebooks in that price range with P3 processors. They weren't Toughbooks though. Anyway you go you'll enjoy it .

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OasisPhoto.com – Images from the Magical Sahara.
ShortWheelbase.com – Jeep preparations.
Coordinates Converter – Lat/Long <-> UTM Conversion Tool.
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  #5  
Old 9 Jan 2005
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A ToughBook would be ideal, but I had good luck using a regular laptop for our trip. I built a small table in the front of the Defender and mounted my 12" iBook there. We had it on and running most of the time we were driving and didn't have any problems with it. It did get very dirty mind you! :-) If you are careful and not too rough on them, a regular laptop should work fine. I can't speak too much to Windows computers since mine is an Apple, but anything from a reputable manufacturer should be fine.

For mounting see:
http://www.jottodesk.com/Comersus/st...namicIndex.asp

The table I built was similar if a bit more crude.

I agree that mapping with a GPS and a laptop is fun and very handy, but always take a backup. I didn't expect the iBook to last for 9 months, and was surprised when it did.

cheers

Graham
www.africaoverland.org
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  #6  
Old 10 Jan 2005
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Interested in the way you use your iBook as I have one too and boringly dislike all computers that run Windows etc. Can you let me know the mapping software you use and which gps as they aren't all compatible. I want to use a Garmin 276c but am not yet sure if the serial ports can be configured to Garmin protocol as We Mac users cannot use the USB port. Any help/advice greatly appreciated.



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  #7  
Old 11 Jan 2005
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I used GPSy (www.gpsy.com) in conjunction with a Keyspan USB to serial converter to handle coms between the GPS and the iBook. I'm using a GPSMap 176, which is pretty much the earlier version of the 276.

GPSy does have some problems and bugs. It will only run in classic OS, not natively in Mac OX X. That just makes it a pain to load. Also, there are some problems with downloading waypoint files from the GPS. I have a bug report into GPSy, but they have not responded.

Another Mac based package is MacGPS Pro. It does run natively in OS X, but also has limitations. The MacGPS Pro website claims that the Garmin USB protocol is unavaliable, so they will not support it. Which is curious since I found the specs for the USB protocol on the Garmin site.

The long and short of it is this: GPSy worked well, but is buggy and limited, so I am now working with a company in England that is developing a Mac based GPS package with expedition use in mind. It will only support USB capable GPS units. So, if anyone has any ideas on features that they would like to see, let me know.

cheers

Graham
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  #8  
Old 13 Jan 2005
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Thanks for the replies.

I think I will have to buy a modestly priced later model jobby in due course (not a toughbook). Mounting a laptop so it can be read in the move is a nice idea, but can you see the screen in the bright African light??? And would a bread and butter laptop stand up to the fearsome battering and sand/dust/direct sunlight of many desert pistes for long??? In a Defender you wouldn't see the screen after the first two minutes anyway - it would be covered in dust. I have the same dust/screen problem with my GPS (Garmin 152). Maybe the later TFT colour ones are better, I don't know.

I think the answer lies with later GPS's like the Garmin 276, which has a brighter screen, unlike a laptop is dust and vibration resistant and has more waypoints than older models, which you can pre-load at home, and maybe use a basic laptop (normally packed safely away) for route downloading / more comprehensive mapping.

Andrew.

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  #9  
Old 15 Jan 2005
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I was concerned about being able to see the laptop screen in the Defender while on the piste too. Actually it turned out much better than I had ever thought. We had no problem seeing the screen except when the sun was directly on it coming through the side window. Dust wasn't that much of a problem and rarely is unless you are in a convoy or heavy traffic, something I feel is much undesired while on the piste.

I do agree that the GPS unit itself is more reliable than a laptop under these conditions, but I have an Apple computer, so am unable to run Mapsource and load maps into the GPS. So I use the iBook to display the map while driving.

Cheers

Graham
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  #10  
Old 19 Jan 2005
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The problem with a laptop for adventure travelling is that if anything goes wrong with it, it can be extremely hard to have it repaired. The parts tend to be very proprietary (and therefore VERY expensive, if you are lucky enough to find them), the particular models are often very country-specific, and expertise is hard to come by.

I made up a "desktop" computer for our vehicle, using standard components, which can be run off a small inverter. The hard drive is a notebook type, so it is reasonably robust. We have a 15" TFT monitor mounted in the vehicle, and a cordless mouse and keyboard.

The big advantage of this is that any component can be replaced, changed, or upgraded in just about any country in the world, cheaply and at short notice.

We rely heavily on the computer for maintaining our website, and for sorting and archiving our digital photos. Losing this facility due to a faulty laptop screen or keyboard or whatever would be more than just inconvenient.

However, our approach does have its drawbacks - it is a fair bit bulkier than a laptop, it can't be easily moved around, and the power consumption is several times that of a small laptop. Also, the option of a "desktop" system is perhaps more attractive in our case as I have some degree of technical computer expertise.

On the whole, it's one of the decisions we have been happiest with, despite the drawbacks. It's certainly an option worth considering.

Regards,

Michael & Sandy
www.expeditionoverland.com


[This message has been edited by SandyM (edited 19 January 2005).]
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  #11  
Old 20 Jan 2005
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Nice idea Michael, you can even bolt the case to part of the bodywork or chassis, so that when the inevitable happens (window forced in Ghana for us), you stand less risk of losing the contents of the hard drive (the most valuable part of the trip once you're home)
We were lucky, they didn't take technological stuff, just cash, which hurt at the time.
You still on the road?
Happy trails
Luke
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  #12  
Old 20 Jan 2005
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May I say that's an excellent idea Michael! (That's what I have installed too )

I currently have a small mother board with a Celeron 1.7 CPU. However I will be upgrading in the near future to the latest (but very cheap) craze in computer systems. A Via Mini-ATX motherboard. These are full featured motherboards that measure an amazing 17cm x 17cm and includes everything on board including the processor, sound, graphics, USB and LAN. Everything is welded on the motherboard including the processor so it's very robust and reliable. There are several models with different processors with performance ranging from P III to low end P IV and all the processor, as well as the boards, are low voltage units that emit little heat so only a heat sink is needed, no noisy fans. There are a many power supply options to run these boards including a 12v direct DC to DC converter to run off a car battery.

A whole industry sprung around these motherboards with all sorts of tiny cases and accessories. A big modder community based on these motherboards and cases is also growing very fast. The whole thing is so small and cheap that you can just take a spare board on the road as a backup.

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OasisPhoto.com – Images from the Magical Sahara.
ShortWheelbase.com – Jeep preparations.
Coordinates Converter – Lat/Long <-> UTM Conversion Tool.
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  #13  
Old 20 Jan 2005
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Hi Luke. Yes, we're still travelling, probably until about June, then it will be time to work at refilling the coffers somewhat. How's your travelling coming along?

I didn't bother with a computer case, btw, I fitted the power supply and a 3 x 5.25" drive enclosure directly into a cupboard in the vehicle. The MB sits in the same cupboard on a sheet of sponge-foam. A fan inside the cupboard keeps the whole thing reasonably cool. Every now and then I blast the whole shebang with air from the compressor, as quite a bit of dust settles.

I fitted the notebook drive and a standard 200GB drive into removable caddies (the simple type with no hot-swap facility). That way, I can keep a full backup on the big hard drive, and then keep that backup in a different part of the vehicle, in case of flood, fire, theft, etc.

A.B., I was also considering changing to an all-singing/dancing Micro-ATX MB, but haven't yet got around to it. One downside is that if something dies on the MB, it might be necessary to find a complete new one. Windoze doesn't like to reconfigure lots of stuff at once, and XP probably would need to be re-activated. On the other hand, I agree that the integrated components tend to be much more reliable in the first place than expansion cards.
(I just re-read your post, and your simple and sensible idea of carry a second identical MB is an ideal solution).

For anyone building-in a computer these days, I would suggest that they consider a wireless NIC, with a good external high-gain antenna. In Europe, North America, and many other places, it is very common to find several available wireless signals, especially in built-up areas. Often these have an open internet connection, which is very handy! (We are careful not to make a nuisance of ourselves by hogging the owner's bandwidth).

We also carry a repeater-type wireless access point, and a second wireless "NIC" of the USB type. That way, we can pretty much connect to anything available in guest-houses etc. No such thing as too much technology! (Well, as long as you have a good Plan B).

Regards,
Michael
www.expeditionoverland.com


[This message has been edited by SandyM (edited 20 January 2005).]

[This message has been edited by SandyM (edited 20 January 2005).]
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  #14  
Old 21 Jan 2005
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Funny you should mention coffers; our travels were truncated in Ghana by a non-paying tenant back home in France; couldn't sort it out at a distance (incompetent agent) so we were obliged to turn tail with only our reserve (finite) budget. The s.o.b. still hasn't paid up, nor moved out a year later! French property laws are a bit lopsided.

Anyway, didn't quite understand what you do with your NIC, do you park in front of an internet café and ask to plug in a WiFi hub? Do they always accept? What if the café's in a pedestrian zone?
You talk about guest houses, do you have a special global 0800 ISP number?
We ended up using too many Iridium minutes because of "friends" who used html or put pics in their emails, and it worked out easier to just take the laptop into the IC (although I didn't like showing people that we were travelling with one so we would move on straight afterwards.)
Cheers
Luke
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  #15  
Old 21 Jan 2005
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To Luke,

AFAIK, WiFi allows you to get on somebody else's network remotely as long as you are witin the range - permission granted by virtue of an altruistic technology ;-)
---
To Sandy,

What's a a repeater-type wireless access point and how do you use it?



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